Friday, December 15, 2006

Reflections on beauty

I wrote the following essay today for my English class, and I thought it was good enough (or at least thought-provoking enough) to post here. Enjoy blasting away.

Prompt: Read the following quote from Dorothy Allison’s essay, “This is Our World.” Then write a thoughtfully reasoned, persuasive essay that defends, challenges or qualifies her assertion. Use evidence from your observation, experience, knowledge to develop your position.

“Art should provoke more questions than answers and, most of all, should make us think about what we rarely want to think about at all.”

Essay: A crucifix in a jar of urine. An empty room with the lights clicking on and off. Three blobs of different colored paint on a white canvas. These are just some of the creations classified as “art” by the experts who are supposed to know. In the quote by Dorothy Allison, she seems to take the same position that these experts do: the most important facet of art is that it is supposed to make you think. If a piece of art provokes thought, then it is a good piece of art. Although I feel that this aspect of art is important, it is not the defining criteria of “good” or “bad” art. The defining criteria should be “that which is beautiful.”

At first glance, this criteria may seem too broad, too easy to meet. However, this is because the word beautiful is often misunderstood. Beauty is much more than “pleasing to the eye” or even “something that takes your breath away.” Ultimately, beauty is that which reflects God’s attributes and priorities. This means that often skill is not enough to make good art. One must also be in touch with what God’s priorities are. This does not, however, require that one be a Christian in order to be a good artist. Many people are in touch with some of God’s priorities and are able to render them beautifully in their art, even though they are not Christians.

A good example of this is Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was not a Christian man by any stretch of the imagination, yet he was in touch with one of God’s priorities: the beauty of his image as represented in human beings. Thus, when he painted the Mona Lisa, he was demonstrating the beauty of God’s image even though he would have denied it. That is why the Mona Lisa and the many other paintings he created are considered great art.

An artist does not need to show something positive for it to be good art, either. Take Pablo Picasso, for example. In the abstractness of his art, as he rearranges faces and body parts and changes perspective and dimension, he is communicating a sense of chaos, and yet it all falls into order when looked at as a whole. This communicates the great truth that through what can seem to be a chaotic world we live in, there is ultimately an order and design to what we do. Thus, Picasso would also qualify as great art.

So what about Allison’s criteria? What part does “thought-provoking” play in determining the value of art? In a real sense, “thought-provoking” as a standard is good, yet incomplete. The best art reflects God, not just questions about him. I guess that ultimately it should be put this way: good art makes you think, great art makes you think of God.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Mark of the Beast?

Driving home from vacation a couple of years ago, we passed a billboard that really made me stop and stare (well, maybe not stop, but definitely stare). It said this:

SATURDAY = The True Lord’s Day
SUNDAY LAWS = The Mark of the Beast

Whatever you believe, I don’t think this would be the most effective way of getting your point across. Nonetheless, it did provoke a lot of thought in my mind that made me reexamine my beliefs about the Sabbath. Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Day on Sunday, when Genesis 2:2-3 says

And he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

And then there’s the fourth commandment, which says

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

I once heard somebody say “I obey all nine of the Ten Commandments,” and it does seem as though this commandment is often ignored in our culture. I know that I look at the Ten Commandments and I can see how most of them apply to my life today, but the Sabbath one seems outdated. How am I supposed to obey this commandment? Is it right to celebrate the Lord’s Day on Sunday, the first day of the week?

Once again, I listened to Al Mohler's sermon on this topic, and once again I would encourage you to listen to it too. It has helped give me perspective on what exactly this commandment means. So a lot of what I’m going to say comes from him, not from me.

Unlike the other nine commandments, the fourth seems to be specifically directed towards the Israelites as opposed to the world in general, at least in its totally literal reading. But if you look at it in the context of the other nine and of the Bible in general, it seems that it is pointing to something. According to Dr. Mohler, it first points backwards to Creation, where God rested on the seventh day and made it holy. It thus emphasizes the importance of rest amidst our busy lives. Secondly, it points forward to a greater rest that is coming. This meaning obviously would not have been clear to most Israelites at the time of the old covenant. It merely seemed to set the seventh day aside so that no work could be done. Yet God had a bigger purpose for it.

I find it interesting that three of the four gospels record the same story in almost exactly the same words. I’m going to quote the story from Matthew 12:1-8 because it is the most extensive, but it can also be found in Mark 2 and Luke 6.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Why did all these gospel writers consider this passage to be so important that they would all include it? I think it’s because this passage shows the meaning behind the Sabbath. This is obviously important to God, or else he would not have included it in the Ten Commandments. So what can we glean from this passage?

First, it condemns the strict legalism of the Pharisees about the Sabbath. It uses as an example David eating sacred bread from the temple. This bread was meant for God, but when needed for a good cause (as in, not selfish desires), David was able to eat it. Also, the priests break the commandment every Sabbath because they are offering sacrifices and keeping the temple in good shape, yet they bear no guilt. So God obviously isn’t concerned with the strict, legalistic rules that the Pharisees insisted on placing on the Sabbath. He is more concerned with the motives of the heart.

Second, it identifies the purpose of the Sabbath. In Mark 2:27, he says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was instituted as a reminder from God to man that he needed to rest. But God is not ultimately concerned with us resting in our physical bodies, although that was clearly important to him. Ultimately, God is concerned with where our souls rest, and that was where the Sabbath pointed us to.

Third, it identifies Christ as the new temple and new Sabbath. He is greater than both the temple and the Sabbath establishment as given in the Old Testament, and he later identifies his own body as the new temple. And this makes sense, because what is the temple? It’s the dwelling place of God on earth, and what is Christ other than God himself? But, more relevant to our discussion today, he is also greater than the Sabbath. In fact, he is Lord of the Sabbath. He is the ultimate fulfillment of the purpose of the Sabbath. As Dr. Mohler states, we are to find our ultimate rest in Christ, which means that we must cease our own labors for salvation and trust in his work alone.

This brings us to how we should observe the Sabbath in the present day. Dr. Mohler gives three options: Seventh Day Sabbitarianism, Lord’s Day Sabbitarianism, and Lord’s Day Observance. Since he is the expert, not me, I’ll let him speak for this section (at least, I’ll let him speak through my paraphrase):

1. Seventh Day Sabbitarianism—the fourth commandment continues unaltered until this day. The main problem with this view is that, after the life of Christ, there is no mention of any seventh day observance of anything. The church, on the other hand, gathered on the first day of the week, known as the Lord’s Day, in order to honor Christ’s resurrection. The most obvious reference to this is Acts 20:7:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

The New Testament clearly chronicles that the early church always met on the Lord’s Day, not on the seventh day. So it would seem that this view is not the most biblical.

2. Lord’s Day Sabbitarianism—the fourth commandment is merely transferred to the first day. The main problem here is that there is no New Testament transfer, whether explicit or implicit. As a matter of fact, it almost seems to be explicitly condemned in Colossians 2:16-23

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels…and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body…grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Since we now have our rest in Christ, and we have the new covenant of grace instead of works, Sabbath rules and regulations no longer apply to us. This brings us to the third option:

3. Lord’s Day Observance—the church should gather together as commanded in the New Testament. This is not to be a time of rules— as in, the “do this” and “do that”s of Colossians 2—but instead, just a time of worship and gathering. It is to be a priority because it is an institution, set in place by the apostles themselves and held as extremely important in the New Testament.

And this brings us to the application: what can we do or not do on the Lord’s Day? After that whole discussion, you didn’t think I’d just give you a list of do’s and don’ts, did you? Of course not. Dr. Mohler’s statement on this was as follows: Anything that would detract or rob from the Lord’s Day in your life should not be done. This becomes a matter of conscience. In my family, we don’t do anything to earn an income on Sunday. We do yardwork, clean the house, watch football, and spend time together as a family instead. I know others who don’t do school on Sunday, and others who do both of these things. All of these are perfectly fine and acceptable, so long as they don’t interfere with your Lord’s Day observance. Church is to be the priority. If something gets in the way of church, that something has to go. That’s the bottom line here.

Have any of these commandments had a simple application yet? I don’t think so…

Friday, November 17, 2006

Chime in at Na

New post still coming...but until it does, I would encourage you to check out this post over at the New Attitude blog. There's a very involved discussion going on over there in the comments about the Bible's authority and inerrancy that I am planning on chiming in on soon. Bryce and Brittany are doing a great job bringing an inerrantist, presuppositionalist view to the table, but they need some help. (Make sure you start by scrolling to the bottom of the page, that's where the comments start.) Have at it, folks!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Dead Poets Society

So a post on the Fourth Commandment is forthcoming...but it's not quite done yet. However, here are some thoughts that I wrote on my Xanga that I thought would fit well on this blog. So until we return to our regularly scheduled series, this will have to do.

The basic premise of the movie Dead Poets Society is that a teacher named John Keating (Robin Williams) comes into a preporatory school to teach English Poetry. His motto is "Carpe Diem", Latin for "Seize the Day." He uses unorthodox methods to teach his students not to conform, to rely on themselves, to really take something out of life with them. He inspires the students to resurrect something called the Dead Poets Society, where they sneak out to a cave at night and read poetry to each other, among other things. He inspires the students to do things they never would have done before, to step out and take chances. But everything backfires when one boy, who goes against his father's wishes to join a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, commits suicide when his father pulls him out of the school. In the resulting investigation, Keating is kicked out of the school.

The final scene of the movie shows Mr. Nolan, the president of the school, trying to teach the class while Keating collects his personal belongings. One of the students jumps up on his desk in defiance, using a symbol used by Keating earlier in the movie, declaring "O Captain, my Captain" as a sign of respect for Keating. One by one all the members of the Dead Poets Society join him on top of their desks, defying Mr. Nolan's repeated injectures to sit down. It is a powerful scene that leaves you with goosebumps.

As I sat through the movie, I was constantly tempted to be swept away by the amazingly profound, motivating things that Keating was saying. "Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Don't be resigned to that. Break out!" That sounds so great! I want to break out of confines, find a voice of my own, do my own thing my own way! Who needs anyone else telling me what to do? That only stifles me. It's a really motivational thought, isn't it? Or then he says this: "Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go, 'That's baaaaad.'" My beliefs are my own. I shouldn't blend into something that someone else thought up. I need to make up my own way to think. It's so exhilirating to think that way, so freeing. I don't need anyone else, it's all about me now.

Robin Williams does a fine job delivering his lines in probably the best acting role I've ever seen him in. That's the main problem. He's so good that you don't grasp the fact that he's spoonfeeding you lies. They are the lies that we all want to believe, that most of the time we really do believe. Who needs God? He's just stifling my inner greatness. Why should the church tell me what to do? I have a right to do whatever I want. I'm a free person. These are the very lies that the snake told Eve in the Garden of Eden: Just think, if you move outside of what God has told you to do, you can be like God. You'll be your own person, live your own life, do your own thing.

Then there's the end of the movie: Neil wants to be an actor, but his father wants him to focus on his studies and avoid the extra-curriculars. Neil defies his father and joins a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as Puck. When his father finds out the day before the show opens, he orders Neil to drop it immediately. Neil defies his father, lying not only to him but also to Keating, who had urged him to talk with his father (about the only biblical thing he said the entire movie), and performs as Puck the following night. His father then finds out, takes him home, and tells him that he will be withdrawn from the school the following day and put into a military school. Neil wants to argue with him, but chickens out at the last second, and they go to bed. In an emotionally powerful sequence Neil stands by the open window with his Puck crown, then walks downstairs, finds a pistol in his father's drawer, and shoots himself with it.

When you watch Neil do this, your first reaction is, "Yes, he's taking his life into his own hands. He's not letting his father boss him around anymore, but he's saving his last vestige of dignity by dying." But then you think about it: shooting himself was actually an act of cowardice. He couldn't bring himself to stand up to his father, chickening out several times when he had the perfect opportunity. So he shot himself instead. The movie tries to portray him as a hero, and does a marvelously good job at it, but if you can sit back and evaluate the circumstances, Neil took the easy road. He didn't want to risk confrontation or his father getting really mad at him, so he killed himself. The hard thing would have been to sit down and talk with his dad about exactly what was going on, having a heart-to-heart. But that's not what the movie tries to make you think.

The miracle of movies is that they can tell you something like this, in the blatant terms I've quoted, and if we're not paying close attention we as Christians can be taken right in. When Keating's teachings lead Neil to shoot himself because he can't get his own way, the students' (and the movie-watchers') first reaction is that it wasn't his fault. Keating was teaching us to take our lives into our own hands, to not let anyone else define us, so when Neil's dad tried to define Neil, Neil had every right to shoot himself. So when the abrasive Mr. Nolan comes into the classroom, embracing the very structure that Keating had tried to throw out, and Todd stands on his desk in a salute to Keating, you're cheering for them, happy that someone is finally sticking it to that stuck-up Nolan. But then you stop to think about it: what am I cheering for? I am cheering for all the lies that Keating told that led to Neil's death. The lies that came straight from the pit of hell. It's really a scary thought.

The cinema is really a scary thing, how it can twist your mind into thinking something completely opposite to everything you know to be true with a few soaring violins and dramatic lines. That's why you really never can turn your brain off, but, as John says, "Test the spirits to see whether they are from God." Just because a movie is well-made doesn't mean it has good morals, and sometimes they can give something completely opposite to what Scripture says is true. Will you be taken in, deceived by the serpent once again, or will you stand for God's truth?

By the way, if anyone is planning on watching this movie, there are some other warnings to be given. There is some language and innuendo, and at one point a boy pulls out a Playboy centerfold. That's about the extent of what went into its rating (PG, but this was before they came out with the PG-13 rating, which it certainly would have deserved).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Be Careful Little Lips...

"Be careful little lips what you say,
Be careful little lips what you say.
For the Father up above is looking down in love.
Be careful little lips what you say."

Exodus 20:7
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain."

In this day and age, most people look at words as either good or bad. "That's a bad word" they'll say. But what is it about a word that makes it bad?

In preparing for this post, I listened to a message by Al Mohler on The Third Commandment.

Al Mohler says, "Words are among the most powerful of the potent tools at our finite disposal."

Words are powerful.

Proverbs 10:11 "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence." and verses 19-20: "When words are many, transgression is not lacking,but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver;the heart of the wicked is of little worth."

Al Mohler also makes this statement: "This is perhaps the commandment most routinely broken by evangelicals. Broken in our discourse with each other, broken in our piety, and broken in our worship."

One of the distinctives about Israel, and the children of God is to be their speech about God. His name must be spoken and heard with reference.

I am that I AM. God reveals His name to us. Our Father in Heaven reveals this to us, not flesh and blood. It is a name about which God Himself is jealous. He just finished telling us that He is a Jealous God.

Exodus 20:5 "You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God"

It is no small thing that we should know His name. In giving to us His name, the Father has given Himself to us.

That is why we must honor His name. In honoring His name, we honor Him.

He is The Almighty, The Amen, The Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Eternal, Faithful, The Holy One, The Just One, The King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, The Light, The Judge, The Word, The Creator, Lord of Glory, Lord of Kings, Lord of lords, Lord of Peace, King of Heaven, God Alone, El Shaddai, Jehovah-Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts), Rock of Ages, Yahweh, and The Majesty on High.

He is filled with zeal for His name -> Ezek. 36:22-23 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

He has allowed His name to be spoken and manipulated and even maligned by sinful creatures. Soon after He gave us His name, it was violated. Sin is a blight upon the name of God. He will not allow His name to be blasphemed without vindication (vs 23 above).

Al Mohler says, "What if the Third Commandment isn't as simple as we thought it was? Maybe there is a hidden danger here that would endanger our very souls, and endanger the very reputation of God; a reputation which He sill vindicate."

He then goes on to explain how this is true.

To understand the name of God is to understand the power of the name. It is a revelation of His character, His Holiness. God has the sole right to define and to name Himself. Taking His name in vain treats Him like an idol.

We often take His name in vain in our piety. We often take God as trite, and don't honor Him as we should. God wants us rich in the knowledge of His name.

We often take His name in vain by superficial worship. We can think that worship must be happy, fun, or creative. He points out that worship demonstrates what we genuinely believe. We do not take His name seriously if we think worship is about anything other than God and God alone.

We take His name in vain by our manipulative God talk. We have no right to speak where God has not spoken. His name is taken in vain when we speak in His stead.

**This is where I would like to jump in to clarify the point he is making. Many people think that you are only taking His name in vain if you actually say His name. This is not true. You are taking His name in vain when you even say something that should only be said by God. For instance, only God can punish and damn the wicked. It is not our place to do that. When we use that word in any given situation, we are using His name in vain because we are taking His place. I will comment on this further later on.**

Al Mohler concludes by saying that this commandment extends "to everything we touch, and everything we think that is even remotely theological or spiritual. It extends to the totality of our lives because God makes total claim upon us by His name. We should be zealous and careful to honor His name with Godly reverence. There will come that day when every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father."


Alright. I agree with everything he said, but I would like to clarify a few things, and add a few things...

A) First, like I said earlier, taking God's name in vain does not just mean that we are actually saying His name. If we say something that is reserved for God, and God alone to say, we are actually using His name in vain. In a sense, we are saying that we are on the same level with God, and therefore qualify to make the same statement that God would. Most curse words fall into this category.

I have had people say this: "Saying 'Oh my God' isn't saying His name in vain." I don't understand how they could say this. It is very clear. When you say that, you are using His name. He has declared His name as Holy. When you say that, you are not using His name in reverence. defines vain as:
1. Without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless
2. Without effect or avail; to no purpose
3. In an improper or irreverent manner

When you say, "Oh my God", are you saying His name with significance, value, or importance? Are you using His name for a purpose? Are you using it properly or in a reverent manner? I doubt you can answer yes to those questions, and therefore, it is taking His name in vain.

B) There are some words that are called "bad words" that don't really fall into either of these two categories though: They aren't God's name, and they aren't something reserved for God alone to say. Now, I am going to assume you have an idea about what words I'm using, because I'm not going to put them up here.

Ephesians 4:29-30 says, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. "

There are words that fall into the category of corrupt talk. We are clearly told by Scripture to not use those words either. I believe that most of you understand this.

C) However, I present to you a possibly new proposition. Before I tell you what it is, I want you to know that I am the worst offender of this. That however, does not make it right.

I would submit to you that even substitutionary words would be using the name of the Lord in vain, or would be corrupt talk. Words such as "gosh, flippin', darn, dang, and others..." Why do I believe that these words are wrong to use?

Matthew 12:34 "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

Matthew 12:36-37 "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

We are going to give an account for every careless word that we speak. And, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Why are you using those words? It is generally because you want to say something similar, but don't want to say a bad word. God looks at the hearts of men.

Luke 16:15 "And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts."

God doesn't look only at what you say; He looks at why you're saying it. When you are asked to give an account for those words, what are you going to say?

Just because we choose to use substitutionary words on the outside does not change our hearts.

And even if you don't agree with my arguments against substitutionary words, think of it this way: When you use them, you are using them in a complaining way almost every time.

Philippians 2:14-15 "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world"

Scripture is clear. We are to do ALL things without grumbling or questioning.

Substitutionary words are words that I know that I use a lot. But that does not justify them. I am sobered when I realize that I will one day give an account for every careless word, and every substitutionary word.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Icons and Idol Factories

This year, our youth ministry is putting on the musical Godspell. We do this musical every few years, and of course one of the biggest questions is always “Who’s going to be playing Jesus?” The role obviously requires good acting skills, but more importantly, the actor himself must live a life in private—as in, when he’s not on stage portraying Jesus—that is worthy of the gospel. The build-up to the announcement, however, has sparked some other discussion as well: is it sinful to portray Christ in a physical form at all? One very good friend of mine has come to the conclusion that it is, and if he had been asked to be Jesus in the show, he would have declined. I, on the other hand, think that in certain cases it is okay. One of the key texts in examining this issue is Exodus 20:4-6, also known as the second commandment:

Exodus 20:4-6 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Some people make the comment that this particular commandment seems to be almost a repeat of the first commandment. I listened to Al Mohler’s fabulous sermon on this topic a few weeks ago (you can listen to it here, and find a very helpful summary here), and he made some very helpful distinctions between the two commandments: the first tells us that we are to worship only God, and the second tells us that he will be worshipped as he wants. The first speaks to the identity and exclusivity of God, and the second shows us how we are to rightly worship him.

In his last post on the first commandment (if you haven’t read it yet, click here), Josh dealt with a lot of the problems of idols. Some will say, “Sam, he already addressed your topic. This post is just going to be redundant.” But Josh was dealing only with one aspect of idols: what we identify with and spend our time doing. But there is another, more obvious kind of idol, the kind that instantly pops to mind when someone says the word “idol”: a little golden statue of a cow or Buddha or Apollo or something like that that people bow down to worship. “Exactly, Sam,” some will say, “This isn’t applicable to us. People don’t do that anymore, at least not in the civilized world.” But they do, and they do it every day, and in Christian churches across America. They are known as “icons.”

Now, I have heard several very strong arguments for the use of icons in worship, and all the arguments hinge on one thing: the icons themselves are not worshipped, but they merely provide visual aids to help us worship God. I can understand those arguments, and they have a lot of merit. However, I still don’t believe they address all the issues, and I think that the basic argument against the use of icons comes down to what Dr. Mohler said in his sermon: the second commandment shows us how we are to rightly worship God, how he chooses to be worshipped. And the way we are to rightly worship God is not through the use of icons.

I have heard it said that one of the reasons for the decline of American culture is the rise of the visual over the verbal. Our culture has become so infatuated with visual media (i.e. television and movies) that it has lost its ability to value verbal media (i.e. newspapers and books). The problem is that God has chosen to reveal himself through verbal, not visual means. In fact, he places an extremely high value on the verbal.

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

God identifies himself as the Word. Not as an image, but as an inherently verbal being. And that’s how he chooses to be worshipped. He doesn’t want to be worshipped “through” something like a crucifix, he wants to be worshipped for who he is. Verbally. Worshipping him through visuals dishonors him.

Why is this important? Dr. Mohler made the point that “to worship the right God in the wrong way is not honoring to him.” As the Westminster Catechism states, the chief end of man is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” When we worship through icons, we are not worshipping him as he demands to be worshipped, so we are not glorifying or honoring him.

Another significant problem with worshipping through icons is that our hearts are, in an illustration that C.J. Mahaney once used, idol factories. Humans have to worship something, and thus we are churning out idols left and right. Even good things (such as relationships, computers, or music) can be turned into idols by our sinful hearts. And one of the easiest things to do when worshipping through icons is to subtly transition to actually worshipping the icons. This can be viewed in its extremes in the Catholic Church, where crucifixes are treasured and prayed to without any thought being given to Christ himself. Other denominations have similar problems as well. The majority of people in these denominations have forgotten that the icons are meant to spur on worship of Christ, and they merely worship the icon. Our hearts do this easily and naturally, perhaps too easily and naturally for it to be safe to use icons.

“Okay Sam, I agree with everything you’ve said so far,” you might be saying at this point, “but it seems like you’re destroying your own position here. Didn’t you say at the beginning of this essay that you believed it was okay to portray Jesus in a physical form?” Ah, now that is where a distinction shows up. Al Mohler made the statement that “Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, is our only icon.” What he meant is that the actual person of Jesus Christ is what we should worship, not any images of Christ, but himself as a person and as God.

However, are we worshipping the portrayal of Jesus in Godspell? Is that Jesus an image that we’re worshipping? I don’t believe it is, and here’s why: we are not worshipping the image of Jesus as portrayed by James Maresco (who got the part in this production). This image of Jesus is merely meant to tell a story, to illustrate a point. If anyone began worshipping James/Jesus, then that would be a sin. They would be breaking the second commandment. However, if people merely view James/Jesus as a vehicle for portraying a truth from God’s Word, I don’t believe this is in violation of the second commandment. The same goes for pictures of Jesus in Bible storybooks. I don’t think that anyone, even a little kid, would look at a picture of Jesus found in The Beginner’s Bible and start to worship that picture of Jesus. The pictures are merely a vehicle, a means to tell a story. The purpose is not to worship them. So I don’t believe that such portrayals are sinful.

In conclusion, the best application of all that I’ve discussed in this post here is to recognize, as Dr. Mohler said, that we all are natural-born idolaters. We are constantly looking for something to worship, and our sinful hearts loves to grab even things that are gifts from God and turn them into idols. So our first instinct must be to distrust our hearts, and constantly be examining ourselves to determine whether or not we are turning this thing into an idol. We must ensure that we are, at all times, worshipping only the true and living God, and that we are worshipping him as he wants to be worshipped.

Friday, October 13, 2006

We're sorry, we're sorry

Yes, we are sorry. Life has been so crazy and hectic that I have not had time to write the next post. But, this Sunday I should be able to get it written, so look here on Monday and hopefully you'll be able to read something worthwhile. If I don't, feel free to heckle me until I do.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sam is a Little Busy...

Sam's a little busy, and can't update right now, so we'll continue on the Ten Commandments later...

For now,

James 5:15-18
"And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit."

Over the past few months, God has shown me time and time again the power of prayer.

Early on this year, I found out that the nephew of some of my closest friends had a tumor in his brain. Things didn't really look too good, but we prayed for him in faith. Through many different surgeries, and through miracles, the tumor is gone last I heard, and he is continuing chemotherapy in order to make sure it stays away.

At the beginning of this past summer, I was talking with a close friend, JD. I told him that one of my prayer requests for the summer was to be filled anew with the Holy Spirit, and to receive the gift of tongues. Nearly three weeks later, while in Mexico, another friend was taken to the hospital. A bunch of us were shaken up, and I went to go pray with three dear friends of mine. As we were praying, God filled me with His Holy Spirit, and a peace filled me inside. Suddenly, I started praying very quietly in tongues. My faith was immediately strengthened.

As the summer continued, I began feeling a burden to pray for the upcoming youth retreat. I felt like He wanted me to pray for the salvation of certain friends. I got a small group together, and we prayed for the retreat. During that week, God was obviously working. I know of five different people who gave their lives to the Lord that week. I also, as an answer to my last request, received many different gifts from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 21:22
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith

John 15:7
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Romans 8:34
Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Why can we come to God in prayer? We can come because Jesus Christ died, and is now interceding for us at the throne of God. God hears our prayers, and answers our prayers.

There is power in prayer. Prayer is a way of fellowshiping with God. I encourage each of you to spend much time every day praying, seeking, asking, and praising God. Ask for strength. Ask for healing. Ask for salvation for friends or family. Ask for miracles. Ask for boldness. Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Prayer has Power

Philippians 4:6-7

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Soon to come...

Sorry everybody, but college application essays come before this blog, I must say. I'm slowly working on the next post, which will cover the second commandment and graven images. I'll post it as soon as I can finish it, so please bear with me. Until then, let me encourage you to read Tim Challies' liveblogging of the Desiring God conference last weekend (there's a link on the sidebar); it's well worth the time.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

By Definition, Who Are You?

A few years back, I was crazed about video games. I let them rule my life. When I would get together with friends, I would talk about them. When I would be at home with nothing else to do, I would play them. They were the most important things to me. They were all I talked about, all I did, and all I wanted to do. When I could have been spending time with my family, or in God’s Word, I would be up in my room playing N64 or Xbox, or some other computer game. It was my life. It was who I was…

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

I think that if I were to ask you, you would probably say that you don’t have a little golden idol hidden away in your room. You don’t go up there and bow down and worship it every morning and evening. You don’t pray to this statue, and worship it. Therefore, you’re already keeping this commandment, right?

Now this may seem like a silly question to some of you. I know that most of you know the answer. But it is something I believe we must all be reminded of constantly.

What does God mean when He says, “You shall have no other gods before me?” Does He mean, “Don’t go making yourself any golden idols and don’t worship them?” Well, sure He does. But that’s not all that this verse is saying.

What this verse is truly talking about is found in our hearts, not in our closets. What in your heart is taking the place of God? What in your heart are you focusing on more than God? It doesn’t have to be something bad. It can be something very good, but if it is taking the place of God, you have elevated it too high.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Is there anything that you love more than God with all your heart, soul, and might? If there is, it has become a god to you.

Look at how much we should love Him. We should teach these words to our children. We should talk of them when we sit in our houses, and when we walk by the way, and when we lie down, and when we rise.

Basically, He is saying that this should be your life. Your life should be lived for God. He should be the One true desire in your heart that you are focusing your entire life on.

Matthew 6:24 says, ““No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

In this case, Christ is speaking specifically about money, but this verse can be applied to all aspects of our lives. We must realize that if we are not living for God, then we are living for something or someone else. If we love one, we will hate the other. If we love, say, money for instance, we will hate God. Now, God is not saying that money is evil (although the Bible does say that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil), but what He is saying, is that we cannot live for one desire and also live for God. We can focus our lives on one thing and one thing only. What is it going to be for you?

Now you may be saying, “I love God. I don’t have any desires competing with God.” This may or may not be true, but given our sinful nature, I would guess that for the most part, there will always be something at least fighting to gain control.

Scripture says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” What do you talk about the most? What do you most enjoy to talk about? Is it God, or is it something else?

The thing that you talk about the most will be the thing that you treasure most in your heart. If it is not God, then it should be seen as an idol or another god. You are treasuring it more than God.

What do you spend your free time doing? Playing video games? Spending time online? Watching TV? Hanging out with friends? Listening to music?

Or, do you spend your free time seeking out God, whether in fellowship, or in His Word, or in worship, or in prayer?

Now, I’m not saying that you should always be talking about God, and that it would be a sin to talk about anything else. But, what are you talking about most? What are you doing the most? How much time are you spending in God’s Word compared to the time spent doing other things? defined Christian in a number of ways. One of them was this:

Christian: a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ

Who are you? If your life were defined by what you do, who would you be? I was once a video gamer. Many things have changed. In fact, now, I don't even like video games. But there are always things competing for my heart. I pray for help, and strive to be defined as a Christian, as one who exemplifies the teachings of Christ. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not. Are you defined as a Christian (according to


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

After further thought and discussion...

After this major discussion we've held here the last couple of days, combined with helpful input from Mr. Boisvert and Mr. Brewer, I have come to the conclusion that my view of lying as stated in the previous post was inaccurate.

One of the things that Mr. Boisvert pointed out was that the definition I offered can very quickly lead you into the slippery slope of relativism. It slides into situational ethics, with right and wrong depending on the circumstance. And Mr. Brewer pointed out that the definition is incomplete, leaving out what a lot of the Bible has to say about the issue. After looking at the many other verses in Scripture that condemn lying, I am firmly convinced now that lying is wrong in all situations. One of the best Scriptures brought to bear on the conversation was Romans 3:7-8:

But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

As Josh said, a lie is a lie. When you're tempted to lie so that good may result, it's still a lie, and it's still sin. One of the things that Mr. Boisvert also brought up, though, was that sometimes it's a question of the lesser of two evils. In a situation like the one with the Nazis, either choice is a sin (either you're betraying someone's trust and possibly participating in their murder or you're lying), and you just might have to choose one of them. But that brings me to the last point: both pastor's pointed out that such hypothetical situations are unhelpful because they completely take God out of the picture. When you're actually in a situation like that, you have a third option: pray, and let God work his will. You never know what God will do when he shows up on the scene.

And finally, Mr. Brewer pointed out that we don't live our lives in these kinds of situations (whether Nazis or surprise parties or whatever). We live our lives in the grey, and in the grey we need an absolute standard. A definition such as my old one is too grey, and it blends in too much and can be manipulated too much. That's why God gave us absolute standards.

So I thank everyone who particpated in that conversation for the biblical perspectives that were brought to the table. That's exactly what this blog is for, to allow for the honest exchange of ideas in a biblical context.

Hopefully our future posts won't be quite so controversial, but hopefully they will all force us to think about what we believe.

[Edit from Josh]: I would like to point out here Sam's humility. Thank you Sam, for being an example of a guy who is willing to admit that you made a mistake. That is a sign of humility in your life, and a sign of true greatness. Thanks for your example. -Josh

A Few Reminders...

Ok guys,

A few quick reminders about this blog...

1. We are all Christians here. 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." This is a good reason for this blog. It will help us to discuss topics, and become more united in the same mind. However, we must all remember what keeps us united. We are all united through the Gospel. Let us never forget that.

2. This is a public blog. Because of this fact, I am simply going to ask once... Can we please refrain from making fun of each other on this site? What you are saying is in fact, being published. I'm fine with teasing and making fun of each other, but let's save it for another setting.

3. Do not accept everything we say. Absolute truth is only found in God and in Scripture, the Word of God. Do not just blindly accept anything said on this site. Go look for yourself. Find out what the Bible says.

4. Ask questions. We would love to hear your questions and suggestions for a new post.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Are you hiding Jews here?

The knock resonates on the door, pulsating through your already throbbing ears. The blood pounds in your head as you push the Jewish family into the secret trapdoor under the dining room table, and then you compose yourself and walk to the door, trembling slightly. You open the door slowly, and see the four Nazi soldiers on the doorstep. The leader looks at you with a cruel stare and asks you a very simple question: “Are you hiding Jews here?” What do you say to him?

I’m sure that you’ve heard this story in many different ways and many different situations, but the basic question is a crucial one for all of us. Is it ever okay to lie? And if so, when?

A good friend of mine and I were having this discussion a few days ago, and it got me thinking. The three main verses that are often brought up (and were in this discussion) are the following:

Exodus 20:16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Proverbs 6:16-18 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Proverbs 12:22 The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.

I’m going to address the subject using these three verses. The first thing to do is to find a definition of a lie. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of “lie” is the following:

1 : an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive
2 : something that misleads or deceives

I think we can all agree that this is an accurate description of a lie. So we are presented with this problem: Is it ever okay to “lie” (as we’ve just defined it)? Well, let’s look back at our scripture verses. We often quote these verses with the intention of showing that God hates lying in all its forms. But if we look closely at the wording used, one of the first things we notice is what it is exactly that God detests: lying lips, a lying tongue, a false witness, false testimony.

It seems that what God hates is a little deeper than just “something that misleads or deceives.” He hates specifically the lips that are lying, the tongue that is lying, the witness who is false, the testimony that is false. Now, if you learn anything about the way God views sin in general from the Bible, it’s that “man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). What you do on the outside isn’t what ultimately counts. If you’re respectful to your parents outwardly but are mad at them in your heart, you’re sinning just as much as the kid who starts yelling at his parents. This concept will help us as we look at lying specifically.

Let’s start by evaluating the two passages from Proverbs. They talk about lying lips and a lying tongue. The idea that these passages give us is more one of habit. For example, would you be considered to have lying lips if you told one white lie once in your life? No, but you still lied. But if you were known for telling outrageous whoppers, trying to get people to believe them, than you would be considered to have lying lips. It seems as though that’s what the passages mean when they say “God detests lying lips”: lips, and by extrapolation a heart, that is focused on lies and consistently lies. That’s what God hates.

But wait, you say, does that mean that God doesn’t mind the occasional white lie? Well, I think that’s where the other passage in Exodus comes in. It helps us to see exactly what kind of lie God despises. It says “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” And after considering this, it seems to me that the kind of lying that God detests is the lying that is intended to hurt somebody else. Whether you’re getting them in trouble or making them look bad or whatever, that’s what God hates. That’s what he specifically condemns in the Ten Commandments.

But what about the lie that you tell when you’re trying to get out of trouble, you might ask. How does that fit in to your definition of sinful lying? My response would be that you’re actually hurting them by depriving them of the opportunity to bring justice, and that is a real harm indeed.

Using this definition of lying, which I believe and have tried to show is biblical, it would be perfectly fine to tell those Nazi soldiers at your door that you are not hiding Jews in your house. You are not trying to hurt somebody else, but in fact you’re helping them and saving their lives, and I believe that you would have God’s support. The same would go for throwing somebody a surprise birthday party: you’re allowed to lie to them in the process of planning it in order to bless them in the future. You’re not harming them in any way.

There are stories in the Bible which I believe support this view. Specifically there are the stories of the Egyptian midwives and Rahab the prostitute. In the stories of the midwives (from Exodus 1), Pharaoh had ordered the midwives to kill all the Hebrew boys as they came out of the womb. The midwives believed this was wrong, and would instead deliver the babies and then tell Pharaoh that the babies were already born by the time they got there. And Scripture says that “God was kind to the midwives…because the midwives feared God.” Wait, they lied because they feared God? According to my view, that lines up exactly with biblical standards. They were lying in order to save lives, not to hurt somebody.

The story of Rahab shows the same principle. When the Israelite spies sought refuge with her, she hid them on the roof and told the soldiers in pursuit that they had left the city (does this sound like the Nazi scenario to anyone?). She was then rescued from the city and blessed because of her actions. Once again, she was helping people, not hurting them, and so her lie was not considered sinful.

In conclusion, I believe that Scripture supports the view that it is okay to lie at times. And like all other sin issues, it all comes down to the heart motives. What is your purpose in telling this lie? Are you trying to hurt somebody or deprive them of justice? I would venture that it is rare that we are presented with the situation where we can tell a lie without sin, but nevertheless I think the situations do exist.

Another topic that has been brought up is that lying can often be a lack of trust in God. If you aren’t trusting God to do what he sees best, then you’ll lie in order to make things work out the way you think they should. In the scenario with the Jews, your first response might be to think “There’s nothing God can do right now, so I’m going to have to do something.” In that case, you are sinning by lying, because you are not trusting in God. However, your first response might also be “These people have placed their trust in me to keep them safe, and if I betray them, then I have essentially murdered them.” If that is what you’re thinking, then I think it would be a sin to betray them. So if you’re lying because you don’t trust God, you’re sinning. But if you’re lying to save a life, then I don’t believe you are sinning.

The most important thing to remember, though, is this: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). It is rare that the situation will be as cut-and-dried as hiding Jews from the Nazis, and when it gets grey, our tendency is to think the best of ourselves and assume we’re doing it for the right reasons. So distrust your heart, and don’t assume you’re in the right. That’s the most dangerous thing you can do.

In other words, save the Jews, but otherwise don’t take the chance.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


The following introduction was written by our good friend Peter Wilson, who was the one who came up with the idea for launching this blog. Sadly, he had to back out of being a contributor, but I still think his introduction has a lot of wisdom. I tacked on the bit at the end, but the rest is all Pete's.

As I sat in front of my computer thinking about what I should say in the first post on HoldFast. I wondered what would be the best introduction to the participants of this blog. The conclusion I came to was that the best way to introduce ourselves would be to introduce anyone who is reading this to our savior, Jesus Christ. Our identities that we hold to most dearly are not our names, our favorite football teams, or any other superficial object of this world. We identify ourselves first and foremost as children of God through adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-6).

This gift is the gift that we hold fast to. We have all been baptized in a public declaration that our life his hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:1-4). Lord willing, everything that is posted on this blog will be a reflection of our Savior’s heart.

I find that my own words fail when trying to speak of our savior so I find it best to use words inspired by God himself from Ephesians 2:1-10. [Text taken from the ESV bible.]

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This is the kind of God we serve. Let our God be served by our conduct on this website.

So, who exactly are we? We're a couple of senior guys with a passion for the glory of God. We believe that God wishes for us to exercise our God-given thinking and reasoning skills to "test every spirit" (1 John 4:1), whether those "spirits" be related to media, politics, current events, or theology.

That's what this blog will be for: thoughtful evaluations of anything we can apply biblical thinking to. In doing this, though, we are not claiming to have any wisdom at all. Nothing we say on this blog is authoritative, so that's why we want to open this blog up to comments. We welcome your comments, critiques, and disagreements with everything we say.

Now, it would be helpful if you knew who we were. So here you are:

Sam Branchaw: 17 years old, high school senior. Born and raised in Gaithersburg, MD, by wonderful godly parents, and a life-long member of Covenant Life Church. Has three siblings, a sister and two brothers, of which he is the oldest, and also has a black lab. Came to Christ at age 10 after being in secret rebellion for two years. Loves history, reading, blogging, and watching a good movie. Known as the king of random information by his friends.

Josh Tucker: 17 years old, high school senior. Born and raised in Gaithersburg, MD, by wonderful godly parents, and a life-long member of Covenant Life Church. Has four siblings, three sisters and a brother, of which he is the second child, and also has a golden retriever. Came to Christ at age 13 after eight years of rebellion. Known as an incredibly passionate guy by his friends.

There may be one more contributor to this blog, but for now the name will remain undisclosed. He will be introduced in the event that he joins.

So that's us. A couple of regular guys. But, through God's grace, we are heirs with Christ and sons of God. So we seek to honor God through the medium of this blog. We hope you'll join us on this journey.